Philadelphia officials say they are redoubling their efforts to invest in community-based programs with the goal of reducing shootings in the city by 30% over the next two years.
Mayor Jim Kenney on Wednesday announced the first update to his administration’s 2019 violence-prevention strategy, dubbed the Philadelphia Roadmap to Safer Communities. It includes about $5 million in new investments to expand programs that target those at risk of participating in or being victimized by gun violence, as well as $13 million to redesign how authorities respond to calls for people experiencing mental health crises.
The funding includes $1.3 million to tackle vacant lots and graffiti cleanup, as well as a $500,000 expansion of the city’s community investment grantmaking program. That effort has sent $2.1 million to more than 100 antiviolence projects over the last two years.
The plan comes a week after federal officials in Philadelphia stood with Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw to pledge more support for investigating violent crime and prosecuting gun cases. In addition, President Joe Biden wants to dedicate $5 billion of his infrastructure plan to support community-based violence prevention and has proposed increasing funding to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Kenney unveiled the update Wednesday as he prepared to deliver his annual budget proposal to City Council on Thursday, a plan that is expected to suggest flat funding for the Police Department. The mayor said the update to the antiviolence strategy doesn’t mean city officials think past efforts were inadequate. He said the pandemic hobbled the criminal justice system, contributing to a spike in violence.
“I don’t think it was a misstep,” he said when asked about how his administration has handled violence prevention. “I think it’s what happened to us. There was a pandemic, and it impacted every city in the country.”
Gun violence has risen sharply over the last year in cities across America, including Philadelphia, where 499 people were killed in 2020, mostly by guns. That was the highest number since 1990, when 500 people were killed. So far in 2021, 142 people have been slain, 33% more than at the same point last year.
The violence has been concentrated in low-income, majority-Black neighborhoods, which have long experienced disinvestment, deeply entrenched poverty, and blight, problems experts say are among the root causes of conflict.
Violence-prevention organizations have called for new funding to tackle gun violence by supporting neighborhood-based organizations and nonprofits. Dozens of groups penned an open letter to the city last week, asking officials to invest a new $100 million in grant programs, school-based violence-prevention efforts, and parks and recreation centers in “high-violence areas.” They pointed to research that shows accessible parks and green space contribute to stress reduction and better social connections.
Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, whose district includes swaths of South and Southwest Philadelphia, appeared alongside the advocates during a news conference last week, saying, “If you ask me, 100 million out of a $6 billion budget is nothing.”
Joel Wilson, president and board chair of the Philadelphia chapter of the mentorship program 100 Black Men, said he had hoped the administration would agree with the groups’ $100 million figure.
The city and state have for years engaged in “economic racism,” Wilson said, by failing to fully fund schools and community-based programming while pouring money into law enforcement. He said that with more funding, his North Philadelphia-based organization, which currently serves about 150 youths, could scale up and keep more young people in school and at work.
“The solutions are here,” Wilson said. “The city has just been extremely organized in not doing them.”